Lanai is one of the more fascinating islands in the Hawaiian
chain because it is so different from the main visitor destinations,
both visually and historically. A small island only about 13 miles
in diameter, Lanai lies just west of Maui and south of Molokai across
a 10-mile channel and is easily visible from both islands. Because
Lanai is in the rain shadow of Maui and Molokai, it gets less rain
so is not quite as lush and tropical in appearance. In places it
looks more like New England or the Pacific Northwest.
The island is a single volcanic cone with its peak, Lanaihale,
at about 3400 feet. Below Lanaihale lies a fairly flat plain about
1000–1500 feet in elevation where the town of Lanai City and
all the former pineapple fields are located. The higher elevation
favors different vegetation, and the island is known for its unique
Cook and Norfolk pine forests. Heavily eroded hills make up the
perimeter of the island leading to the shore. Much of the coastline
is made up of steep cliffs, but there are some spectacular white
sand beaches in several places as well.
As most Hawaii visitors know, essentially the entire island
of Lanai was purchased in 1922 by James Dole and for over 60 years
was used almost exclusively for pineapple production. During that
period the island saw very little tourism; in a typical year only
about 5000 visitors made it to Lanai.
By 1970 the owners of Dole Pineapple recognized that global
economic changes would eventually make it unprofitable to grow pineapple
in Hawaii. When David Murdock became CEO of parent company Castle
& Cooke in 1985, he gave the go-ahead for the shutdown of pineapple
farming and the construction of two exclusive resorts. The Lodge
at Koele and the Manele Bay Hotel (now the Four Seasons Lanai
Manele Bay) opened in the early 1990s and
Lanai went from virtually all farming and no tourism to all tourism
and no farming in a few short years. Formerly known as “The
Pineapple Island,” Lanai is now officially called “The
Private Island,” but it will be a long time before its pineapple
heritage is forgotten.
HOW TO GET THERE
By air: Lanai is served by the two major interisland carriers, Hawaiian
Airlines (telephone 1-800-364-5320) and Island
Air (the commuter division of Aloha Airlines—telephone 1-800-323-3345).
If you like flying in smaller airplanes, Pacific
Wings (another commuter airline—telephone 1-888-575-4546) flies
to Lanai with more flights than Hawaiian or Aloha (and better views of
By boat: If you’re visiting Lanai from Maui, a convenient
way to get there is by ferry from Lahaina. Expeditions, which
bills itself as “The Lahaina–Lanai Ferry,” has several
runs a day between Lahaina Harbor and Manele Bay.
By car: We’re kidding. Just checking to see if you’re
WHAT TO DO
Almost everyone who visits Lanai is attracted by its remoteness,
isolation, and sense of exclusivity. Even today with its world-class
resorts, Lanai gets only a tiny fraction of visitors to Hawaii.
Some people take advantage of that by enjoying activities at the
two luxury resorts: swimming and sunbathing, dining at the fine
restaurants, playing golf or tennis, horseback riding, or simply
relaxing. For those people, the rest of Lanai is simply a buffer
between them and the real world.
Others see the uniqueness of Lanai and want to explore it! Most
of Lanai is untouched by modern life, free of people, and accessible
only by unpaved 4-wheel-drive roads. Unlike the rest of Hawaii
where tourists are actively discouraged (or prohibited) from leaving
paved roads even in 4WD vehicles, exploring Lanai in a rented Jeep
is one of the major tourist activities.
Please refer to the map above. While we tell you about the
key locations on Lanai, we’ll give you a pronunciation guide
so you won’t embarrass yourself.
First, we should mention that Lanai is officially spelled “Lana‘i”
with the backward apostrophe or okina indicating the presence
of a glottal stop, as in the way the air stops in the expression
“oh-oh!” For simplicity, we leave out the okina in this
website, but you properly pronounce Lanai “la'-na-ee”
with a glottal stop between the na and the ee. However, although
that’s the “correct” pronunciation, even the locals
usually pronounce Lanai “la-nye'” (with the accent on
the second syllable).
You will arrive on Lanai either by air at the Lanai Airport
or by boat from Maui at the Manele (ma-nell'-ay) Bay harbor. Just
around the corner from the boat harbor is the Four Seasons Lanai Manele Bay
(which is actually on Hulopoe (hoo-lo-po'-ay) Bay) and the Challenge
at Manele golf course. The 8-mile road from the hotel to Lanai City
passes through former pineapple fields, now fallow.
The quaint little town of Lanai City looks nothing like
any town we’ve ever seen and certainly different from other
towns in Hawaii. Nestled in hundreds of tall Cook and Norfolk Pines,
“downtown” consists of two streets separated by Dole
Park, with the commercial establishments in small detached buildings
opposite the park. No strip malls here! The residences—small,
single-story wood homes common in former plantation towns in Hawaii—are
neatly organized along quiet side streets.
Just at the northern edge of Lanai City you come to the
Lodge at Koele (ko-ell'-ay) and the Experience at Koele golf course.
The remaining paved road on Lanai leads northeast down a winding
hillside to the coast. All the other roads on Lanai are unpaved,
and if you rent a 4WD you can see a lot more of the island.
The best views on Lanai are from the top of Lanaihale (la-nye-ha'-lay)
along the Munro Trail, named for George Munro who was responsible
for planting Lanai’s pine trees.
Keomuku (kay-oh-moo'-koo) has the remains of an ill-fated sugar
mill which lasted for only a short time around 1900. Nearby
at the point closest to Lahaina, Maui, is the former Club Lanai,
which until it closed a few years ago was a not-quite-popular-enough
day-resort for Maui visitors. The last time we looked it was still
available for sale to someone with deep pockets and a lot of imagination.
The northeastern section of the Lanai coast is called Shipwreck
Beach because of the dangerous winds and reefs responsible for
many shipwrecks over the centuries. Interestingly, the most visible
“shipwreck”—still rusting away and one of top
photo opportunities on the island—wasn’t really a shipwreck
at all. The surplus World War II vessel was beached on the reef
in the early 1950s. Instead of breaking up and sinking like similar
ships, it’s still there 50 years later.
Heading northwest from Lanai City on another unpaved road,
you pass the Garden of the Gods, a unique collection of rock formations.
This area is also frequented by axis deer which are common on Lanai.
Continuing down a very rough 4WD trail brings you to Polihua (po-lee-hoo'-ah)
Beach, a broad, beautiful, and almost totally deserted white sand
beach with views of Molokai across the channel.
The other locations shown on the map are too remote even
for 4WD rental vehicles, although some visitors undoubtedly find
their way to them anyway. Wherever you go, or even if you confine
your exploring to the hotel grounds and Lanai City, you’ll
bring home some unique memories. So head back to our
home page and choose your Lanai hotel now!